LibriVox recording of Life in the Iron Mills, by Rebecca Harding Davis. Read by Elizabeth Klett.
This 1861 novella was the first published work by Rebecca Harding Davis: writer, social reformer, and pioneer of literary realism. It tells the story of Hugh Wolfe, a Welsh laborer in an iron mill who is also a talented sculptor, and of Deborah, the hunchbacked woman who unrequitedly loves him.
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April 21, 2011 Subject:
Life in the Iron Mills
The 1861 novella Life in the Iron Mills was the first American story to depict realistically the factory mill worker. It's about a Welsh pig iron worker in Wheeling, West Virgina who has little chance of escaping the fate of the working class - a short, brutal life. By showing the factory workers with sympathy and respect, Rebecca Harding Davis set out to reform social problems and popular misconceptions. She counters the notion, common at the time (and not uncommon today) that poverty is a genetic or even a personal failing, rather than a social one. She was one of the first in a long line of American authors who used realism (Theodore Dreiser), naturalism (Frank Norris) and later modernism (John Steinbeck) to describe the plight of the working class for the purpose of informing the reading public, the bourgeois, about the problems of the proletariat; indeed by the 1930s there was a whole genre of literature that sometimes goes by the name "proletariat literature". This is where it began.
Read via LibriVox, narrated by Elizabeth Klett, whose Welsh accent during dialogue is remarkable.